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Beasts of the Southern Wild [spoilers, duh]

Beasts of the Southern Wild. Exhilarating. Powerful. Evocative. Two insane central performances.

This is so different to anything I’ve seen, and the film did not lose my attention for a second the whole way through. I can’t remember the last time I’ve experienced that.

Quvenzhane Wallis, as our six year old hero, Hushpuppy, is astonishing. I can’t find anything to confirm her real age, but it looks like she was actually six at the time of shooting this. How she was able to give the performance she did is beyond me. The fierceness in her face and eyes during many an exchange with her father, Wink, is something that will stay with me for a long time.

The tough love central relationship is perfectly scripted and acted. There’s hardly a scene between the two that isn’t tough to watch, but at the same time, utterly captivating. I was invested in both instantly.

For all the overwhelming sense of dire seen from an external perspective, there were so many moments of laugh-out-loud humour. Lighting a stove with a flame thrower [safety helmet on first, of course], walking out the door straight into the water, and listening to see if the leaf has a heartbeat before eating it were three of my favourite light-hearted moments. It’s not all acting and direction, with the killer script and dialogue making these characters all the more colourful, endearing and whacky.

The imagery. Beautiful, tragic, and sometimes, both at once. This is a jarring, eye-opening look into a part of the world I’ll likely never see. With director Benh Zeitlin’s previous work being on Hurricane Katrina, I’m guessing there’s a lot here based on what he’s seen, making it all the more disturbing.

The beasts themselves. I hadn’t read a synopsis before I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, and in talking about it directly after with someone, we both assumed they were a part of Hushpuppy’s imagination. To me they indicated a passing of generations, and cycle of life. The beasts at first being a reflection of nature and her dominant father. One dies, but the beasts march on, as do the group of kids, returning, somewhat reborn from their night of tenderness and nurturing. I may be totally off, but I’ll go with it.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better screenplay, unique imagery or female performance this year.

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